Single women still fight stereotypes
By LEANNE ITALIE
Not all older single ladies want a ring, and they have a message for relatives, co-workers, neighbors, friends, acquaintances and random buttinskys who think they need one:
Shut up already!
They have other messages: We're not all sad. We're not all divorced, unlucky in love or unlovable. We're not all gay (and even if we were, have we not evolved as a culture, even just a little, to stop making that assumption? Don't answer that.)
Singledom and a massive case of "singlism" are red hot right now as short hair, softball and being single at 50 swirl around Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, and Samantha Jones cracks menopause jokes at 54 as she romps in the desert with her three fab friends in "Sex and the City 2."
For women, say 45 and up, who are living single and always have, it's a chronically sizzling subject as they face down the seemingly unstoppable tangle of stereotypes that has plagued them forEVER: Old Maid. Desperate. Quirky. Cougar. Incapable of committing. Workaholic. Bitter. Damaged goods.
"There always has to be something wrong," said Rose Clayton, 48, who works in the tasting room of a winery in Alexandria, Va., and has always been single. "It's always, ohhh, what's wrong? I always go, 'With me you mean? Or other people?' "
Imagine being happy and nobody believes you, she said. "I have plenty of friends, family. I go out and do things. I travel, go to dinner and parties, socialize."
Social psychologist Bella DePaulo is 56 and happily an always-single near Santa Barbara, Calif. She's been trying to turn off the stereotypes and end the stigma, first through a book, "Singled Out," and now a blog called Living Single for Psychologytoday.com.
Older, single women are often painted as what DePaulo called "quirkyalones" when really they're "singles at heart" and wouldn't have it any other way. Even more important, perhaps, she asks why we're still desperately trying to suck them into the "Matrimania" vortex?
"The single at heart are not looking for long-term coupling, whereas quirkyalones still romanticize the quest for The One, and that makes the quirkyalone less threatening, easier to understand," DePaulo said.
Over-the-top hyping of marriage and coupling — including "wedding porn" that includes TV ads selling everything from muffins to motor oil — wasn't necessary back when everybody got married, when they divorced less and when women had little opportunity for financial security or having children outside of marriage.
In 1970, 28 percent of the U.S. population was divorced, widowed or never married. By 2008, it was 45.2 percent, with single women 45 and older 27 million strong across those categories.
According to a 2009 census report, 11.5 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 49 have never been married, up from 10.7 percent in 2005. For women 50 to 54, it was 10 percent, compared with 8.7 percent four years earlier.
Negative assumptions about living single and older don't pack the wallop of other "isms," like racism, DePaulo said. "There's no consciousness raising. The stereotypes are so rarely challenged."
Betsy Robinson, 59, is madly in love — with the single life she's always had.
"I remember really lighting into my grandmother when I was in my 20s for referring to a time when I was going to get married," said the writer in New York City. "I told her never, and I think she went into shock. She was the sweetest person in the world, and I got really mad at her."
Not so much has changed in nearly 40 years, said Robinson, who has been following media coverage on Kagan's single status and coded speculation on her sexual orientation. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (the one who resigned over hiring a hooker) is Kagan's friend from Princeton. He went so far as to tell Politico: "I did not go out with her, but other guys did."
Living happily single without hunting for a mate, or living happily single while dating, especially outside one's age range, the stereotypes never end.
Take the cougar craze. Kim Cattrall of Samantha fame recently questioned the term.
"I think cougar has a negative connotation," she told Extra. "I was asked recently by a significant magazine for women over 40 to pose with a cougar, and I refused to do it because I felt it was insulting. They took away the cover because I refused to do so."
DePaulo said friends, family, colleagues and the world at large can sometimes more easily get their minds around an older single woman interested in younger men — or any man — than a woman who makes it clear she isn't and really likes her life without that goal in mind. "I think there's really a belief that if you get married you are actually a better person than a single person," she said.
Like Cattrall's Samantha, 45-year-old Lori Goodwine in Las Vegas has her own public relations firm. She falls somewhere in the middle on the issue of a long-term relationship. Ideally, she said, she'd love to have "a great guy around," — so long as he doesn't live with her.